John was called many names: The Professor. The Mayor. The Kentucky Colonel. The Great Connector. The ultimate sommelier and member of “The Hillbilly Winos.” Some of these were inside jokes among friends, while others were a matter of public record. He was the self-proclaimed “dumb ole’ country boy” when he was feeling humble, but he was also a force of nature that drove people in a positive direction.
Most people knew him simply as “The Durham.”
He was personally responsible for kicking off the careers of hundreds -- if not thousands -- of people in digital advertising and marketing. He was the momentum behind events that shaped the digital advertising industry from its inception, and the ultimate motivator for anyone sitting in front of him.
He was a breeze blowing positivity into the lives of so many people. He had the ability to make you feel special, to unlock your dreams and have them wash over you, creating a sense of belief and excitement that would nudge you in the direction to strive for something great. He published his “Durhamisms” every day over the last 10 years, aggregating the kind and motivational words of so many people into a single thread that furthered their initial purpose.
To me, he was a mentor, a business partner and a friend. He was also family. He was responsible for me meeting my wife, he spoke at our wedding, and he was known to my kids as GodDaddy John. He would spend many holidays with us, and we spoke to him every week, increasing to almost daily the last few years. His health was a concern we talked about often, but he would always disregard those concerns and shift the topic toward something else. He would be “just checkin’ in,” because he wanted to keep tabs on how life was going and offer words of encouragement.
This past week the digital media business witnessed an outpouring of emotion the likes of which we've never seen before. Stories were told, and tears were shed. It was a testament to just how important John was and how many people he touched over the last 30 years. Many of the people who grew the digital media community were FODs (friends of Durham) or Durhamites (proteges of Durham).
I am going to miss our daily check-ins. I will miss our discussions about grandiose ideas and new businesses.
And I will miss him deeply this holiday season. The holidays were when my kids would hang out with John, seeing the smiles light up their little faces when he would arrive bearing gifts (far too many -- he was always too generous).
The best way to honor someone like John is to look at what was so great about him, what greatness he helped bring out in you, and continue to strive for success as a way of honoring his commitment to you.
I know I am who I am partially because of John’s role in my life. Some of the best relationships I have are because of John, and I will forever be thankful to him.
We should all be such a positive force of nature. We should all continue to believe in ourselves and the people around us in the same way that John believed in us.
When you fall into doubt about what to do next, ask yourself what John would tell you. Many of us would have called him to get his advice. Know that John would have simply found the right light in you and helped foster its brightness.
When John passed last week, I posted on social media that I would look for him in the sunrise the next morning because to me, he will always be that beacon of bright light shining down on us every day. His light shines bright, and it shines wide, and it covers everyone who came into contact with him.
Cheers to you, John, with a glass of ’83 Krug.